I’m delighted to bring you this guest blog post, today on the topic of names, by historical and suspense western author Carol Crigger.
‘Power with a capital P’
There’s Power, with a capital P, in your characters’ name.
Naming your characters is just like naming your baby. Your fictional people will live and die under this name, so you need to choose their names with care.
Names are more than just tags to hang on your characters. Names define them, giving them personality and substance.
Sometimes you may find a character will almost name him/herself, as if it’s meant to be. In one of my westerns, my heroine turned stubborn. By the time I got to the second chapter where she contemplated turning to prostitution to keep herself alive, she’d told me that Leah just wasn’t working for her. So I used my replace function, and changed her to Sophie, thinking that was a spunkier name. But maybe it was too close to what a real prostitute might call herself, and she drew a line in the sand. “My name is Caroline,” she told me, and fortunately, I took her at her word and the story progressed from there. I, as the author, had balked at Caroline since it’s so similar to my own name, but she insisted. Do my characters have life for me? Oh, yes they do! Caroline’s counterpart, the love interest and major source of conflict, is Micah Sutton. His name was always a given, denoting—to me at least—strength, easy to remember, a name suitable for the time period, and even seeming to belong to an attractive, though simple, sometimes stubborn man. And Micah is all of those things.
At least two of my major characters have names I’d never heard or seen anywhere other than my books. One is Thomasella, whose name makes me think she could be a fledgling magician. (Note: I’ve since seen this as a last name.) The other is Boothenay Irons, my wise-cracking, butt-kicking, time-traveling gunsmith, whose name suits her perfectly.
I spend a lot of time with names. I can’t work the story until I’ve learned and defined the characters through their names. A name has to tell the reader something right off. How could a Mary possibly be a magician? How could Carol be a time-traveler. They just couldn’t. Not in my lexicon. The name you—or your character—selects will suggest certain traits, whether social, ethnic, occupational, personality, strengths or weakness, and the era they’re “living” in. Most likely all of those things. Too plain a name, and your characters will fade and become forgettable. Too fancy, hard to pronounce, or weird, and they run the risk of becoming so difficult the reader will give up on them. That’s why it’s so important to get the names right.
Give your protagonist and sidekick or love interest a name you love; give your villain a name you hate, give your secondary characters names that either irritate you or that you like but may be ho-hum. Give them names you hardly notice, or names you distrust. Whatever quality you want that character to have, she will subconsciously be endowed with it as you write her into the story.
Morgen: I also did a piece on names a while back but not a patch on this. Thank you Carol!
Born and raised in North Idaho on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation, C.K. Crigger lives with her husband and three feisty little dogs in Spokane Valley, Washington. She is a member of Western Writers of America and reviews books and writes occasional articles for Roundup magazine. Imbued with an abiding love of western traditions and wide-open spaces, Ms. Crigger writes of free-spirited people who break from their standard roles. In her books, whether westerns, mysteries, or fantasy, the locales are real places. All of her books are set the Inland Northwest, the westerns with a historical background. Her short story, Aldy Neal’s Ghost, was a 2007 Spur finalist. Her western novel, Black Crossing, won the 2008 Eppie. Letter of the Law was a 2009 Spur finalist in the audio category.
If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).